Drawing Near

A Pastoral Perspective on Biblical, Theological, & Cultural Issues | The Personal Website of James B. Law, Ph.D.

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September 2013

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A Grace-Filled Response to Personal Suffering

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grace-treeI finish my 82nd sermon in Genesis this Sunday which concludes a 2 1/2 year journey through this foundational and life-changing book.  Studying the narratives of Genesis 37-50 has been a rich blessing for me personally, and based on the feedback, for FBCG as well.

In recent weeks, the study of Joseph has become larger than life to me.  It is amazing to see the grace of God on display as he faces intense suffering. Following Joseph’s steps to Egyptian prominence is amazing:

*Sold by his brothers and bought by Potiphar

*Framed by Potiphar’s wife and subsequently thrown in prison

*God gave favor to Joseph in prison and soon was in charge of prisoners

*Joseph interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer and baker

*Cupbearer is restored, Joseph appeals to the cupbearer for him to remember him before Pharaoh.

*Cupbearer forgets Joseph, however when Pharaoh has a dream no one can interpret, the cupbearer remembers Joseph and makes the connection.

*Joseph interpreters Pharaoh’s dream and is ushered to prominence in Egypt.

This along with God’s providence in bringing reconciliation to the entire family, makes this one incredible journey. The reading of Joseph’s life presents him as the ordinary boy who lives down the street who grew up in a dysfunctional family, and yet, more space is given to Joseph’s life than any other person in the book of Genesis.  His greatness is seen in the unmistakeable qualities of: his faith, his character, and his gracious, forgiving heart.

In this post, I would like to highlight from Joseph’s life a particular episode that has impacted me greatly over the last several weeks. In Genesis 50:15-21, the story picks up right after the burial of his father Jacob.  Seventeen years had past since Joseph had been reconciled with his brothers, and he had said to them previously,

Genesis 45:5-    “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

And,

Genesis 45:15- “He kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him.”

Even though Joseph had forgiven them of their betrayal, his brothers still had a troubled conscience, and they began to speculate that Joseph’s heart may turn against them:

~Genesis 50:15-21~

              15     When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!” 16     So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, 17     ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  18  Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19     But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?  20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.  21 “So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

This is supernatural living!

Joseph shows the grace-filled response that believers are called to give in the face of personal suffering.

I.  He was Compassionate With Others Failures

Notice his response:

“Joseph wept when they spoke to him.” (17)

“…he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (21)

Their family had been shot through with deception and grudges. Such legacies can be passed on to the next generation with ease, however, Joseph’s grace-filled response severs the root of bitterness and leaves it to wither and die.

II.  He Gave Encouragement When Situations were Hard

In verse 19, he said to them, “Do not be afraid…” The temptation would be to let these wrong doers soak in their misery and to relish their discomfort. He encouraged them with a promise often given to the believer by God Himself (Psalm 27:1-2; Psalm 56:3; Matthew 28:10; Acts 18:9,10; Revelation 1:17,18)

III. He was Humble in the Face of Human Failure.  

Not only did he comfort them and tell them not to be afraid, but he acknowledges that he has not their judge by stating rhetorically, “….am I in God’s place?” (19)  What makes this so powerful is that Joseph was indeed in a position to make their lives miserable if he was so inclined.

R. KENT HUGHES- “How much of our relational trouble comes from our attempting to be God in other  peoples’ lives. Oh, if we were only God for a day—we would set so many evils right!….Joseph left all the righting of his personal wrongs to God and set the example for the faithful in every age.”

IV.  He was able to Process His Suffering From Heaven’s Perspective 

And now we come to the classic, oft recited verse, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (20)

Though no one in this story could see it at the time, God was working and accomplishing His good pleasure. We are promised that God is always working for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), and that He controls all things (famines, personal betrayal, etc.), and we are to gain our equilibrium from these blessed realities.

V.  He Gave a Clear Release from Past Offenses

The text states that when they were speaking to him that “Joseph wept.” (17) He wept not as a victim, but as one overcome by how great God is. In light of God’s gracious provision in His life, Joseph treats his brothers with tenderness and absolute forgiveness from past offenses.

VI.  He Was Generous to Those Who Had Wronged Him.

Using his position of leadership, Joseph said to his brothers “I will provide for you and your little ones.” (21) He was generously committed to provide for his family.  What a great way to live! In Joseph we see a picture of a heart operating in grace.

Sometimes the pain of our past drags stubbornly in our lives. The good news is that God has a remedy for our failures and our sorrows, and that is His grace. The grace of God found in Jesus Christ is greater than all of our sin and all of our suffering.  Come to Christ right now and drink from the fountain of His grace….it never runs dry.   ©Copyright by James B Law, 2013.

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